How To Do A Gemba Walk

Originating from the Japanese word ‘Gembutsu’ which translates to ‘the real place’, the concept of a Gemba Walk helps business owners reflect on their workplace and identify areas for improvement. As we get so caught up in our ongoing roles and the day to day operations of a business, it can be easy to fall into bad habits and completely miss out on growth opportunities.

A Gemba Walk is simply a process of walking through a business to observe factors like employees, processes, and outcomes to gain insights that may have not been apparent before and open up the mind to improvement.

This process is important as it allows business owners and those in managerial roles to witness the daily operations from a new level, taking the time out to learn from those in more operational roles. By eliminating assumptions and overcoming any disconnects among the workforce, a business can make changes which allow it to adapt and overcome any obstacles.

Why Carry Out A Gemba Walk?

Offering benefits for both managers and their employees alike, knowing how to do a Gemba Walk and making time to do so on a regular basis will help leaders make a positive impact.

  • Encourage a collaborative culture which allows open discussion among a team.
  • Introduce business changes which help workers do their job more easily and efficiently.
  • Improve professional development by demonstrating an active desire to grow.
  • Maintain high employee morale by creating a team dynamic and displaying an appreciation for their contributions.
  • Enhance operations across all areas of a company to bring it all together.
  • Save both time and money by improving outdated processes.

How To Do A Gemba Walk In 7 Simple Steps

1. Define your goals

Before you get started, ask yourself why you wanted to know how to do a Gemba Walk in the first place and what you hoped to achieve from it. By pinpointing some targets, you will be able to plan accordingly and achieve more targeted results in the long run. Great places to start include looking at any key performance indicators you measure on an ongoing basis or different value areas which could offer areas of improvement. When establishing your goals, try to keep them specific so you can remain focused on your Gemba Walk and not overwhelm yourself by having too much to look at.

2. Bring in a team

Although it is a process that can be carried out alone, having more eyes involved can help gain new perspectives. Invite leaders from different areas of the business as each will bring new perspectives and be able to offer new suggestions, all asking different questions and focusing in on different areas. Although every person involved will take a slightly different approach, it is important that you are all working to the same objectives that were previously discussed in order to be able to work collaboratively as a team.

3. Ask the right questions

A huge part of knowing how to do a Gemba Walk is knowing how to spark the right conversations. With a main part of the process being speaking to employees that carry out the work, use the opportunity to learn from their knowledge and better understand the challenges they face on a daily basis. Although everyone will have their assumptions going into the process, keeping an open mind and closely observing the operations will allow you to think of new questions which you may never have considered. As well as engaging in natural conversation throughout the walk, it is often a good idea to pre-plan some questions to help you stay on track and really figure out how value can be added to a certain area of the business.

4. Communicate your intentions

If employees suddenly notice management walking around and watching them work, they may naturally feel as if they are being checked up on. The last thing you want during your Gemba Walk is employees answering your questions with what they feel is the ‘right’ answer and adapting their work style as you observe. When planning how to do a Gemba Walk, be sure to inform your employees about the aim and let them know what is happening. As well as helping you achieve genuine responses, this can be an opportunity for workers to raise any thoughts and ideas of their own.

5. Document the process

During the walk, use the opportunity to digest as much information as possible and don’t worry about any future changes just yet. Instead of trying to problem solve, get a thorough understanding of every process, including the bad ones, and record notes as you go. Pre-preparing forms is a handy way to keep your data organised and ensure that you cover all ground when making your observations, having handy sections in which you can quickly jot down any thoughts or comments from your employees. Many people also like to take photos or videos as they go so they can look back on them at a later stage.

6. Plan the right moment

A Gemba Walk is not a one off process and to get the best outcome, you need to have a thorough understanding of how the business operates at different times of the day and during different days of the week. Regularly booking in Gemba Walks will mean you can get an accurate understanding and closely follow any improvements that are being made, not basing your entire business decisions on one moment. Although booking a Walk at 2am may not be practical, getting different perspectives allows you to piece together the different problems and make much more informed decisions.

7. Keep the door open

Following your interaction with employees, maintain the relationships and keep the conversation flowing. Returning for another observation on a regular basis once new initiatives have been planned will allow you to get honest feedback and see first hand whether they are working. These honest reviews will help you learn from your decisions and find any further areas for improvement, keeping everyone up to date along the way to avoid any miscommunication. As well as helping you learn from your employees, the ongoing conversations will make the workforce feel valued as they are able to have their say.

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